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Hot Hacks!

May 2, 2012

Over the past weekend the CDOT crew and I were invited to participate in Hot Hacks, which is a two day long hack-a-thon centered around creating a web native portion to existing documentaries.  This meant the Popcorn team would be paired up with the various documentarians and we would help them create a working demo over the two days that could later be iterated on.  The 6 documentaries were as follows:

The Message: the (r)evolutionary power of climate change
“The Message is a multi-platform (book + documentary + web + events) project by Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis.

Turcot
“Turcot looks at Montreal’s largest highway Interchange, currently scheduled for a complete demolition and rebuild. The interactivity of the documentary project will allow the residents a direct voice, so that their concerns and opinions are heard by others. The voices will build on each other to develop alternative designs and solutions while there is still time to influence the actual Interchange construction.”

Following Wise Men (working title)
“The film will tell an evergreen story about a 50th anniversary reunion road trip with four friends who are astronomers; the interactive project will be an evergreen, searchable, expandable, community-sourced science web site charting astronomers and their discoveries in the context of their professors, mentors and students in an astronomer’s family tree. “

Looking at Los Sures “We will use an archival documentary (Los Sures by Diego Echeverria, 1984) about the South Williamsburg neighborhood as the inspiration as well as the primary online navigation for a set of new documentary projects that approach the same place and themes, now nearly thirty years later. New short interactive projects created by thirty different artists over three years will annotate and expand on the original film in ways previously unexplored.”

The Last Hijack
“For over 20 years Somalis have faced the horror of famine and war. The Last Hijack is a story about survival in this failed state. It is about the rise of piracy and how it affects the people around it.”

Immigrant Nation

Kate Hudson and I were paired up with Katie McKenna and began understanding what the project was about and what Katie wanted to accomplish.  The nice thing about this experience was the Brett and Ben had all of the teams create a concise idea before coming to Hot Hacks, so we had a good idea to begin with and rolled with it.  What Katie envisioned was a way to showcase the different perspectives of various speakers regarding our environment. To do this, we wanted to use a parallax effect and separate the project into different sections that the user could scroll through and experience each perspective independently with its own unique theme. Another issue that we had to address early on was the fact that Popcorn has a tendency to throw a lot of information at you very abruptly. To combat this we used various transitions and effects to blur content that wasn’t the primary focus at the moment and ease it in when it was relevant. In doing so we created an experience that allows the user to focus on what the speaker is saying but also annotate important information when it made sense.  Another unique aspect of our project was the fact that we utilized scrolling to drive the Popcorn experience throughout the demo. This meant that the user could freely explore the page with the opportunity to jump between perspectives seamlessly. This meant that the user could navigate as they saw fit and not feel like we were spoon feeding them a linear experience.

The experience in general was great. Katie, Kate, and I gelled quite well in my opinion and got on the same page pretty fast. Kate and really got into the groove of things on day two. We were able to both collaboratively work off of a single Github repo and merge with one another pretty painlessly. In typical hack-a-thon fashion, a lot of ideas were tried, didn’t necessarily work, and were thrown away, which was one of our groups strengths in my opinion. Since we weren’t afraid to try things we were able to create a tonne of small prototypes and were able to see what worked and what didn’t very fast. Some of the prototypes that we created and threw away were things like pulling in an RSS feed on relevant information and displaying it across the background of a page, a map of the world that lit up various regions as you scrolled through the page, and many more. It was awesome that Katie was on board with all of this as well, as I’m sure it had to seem quite hectic and scary at times!

All in all the weekend was great and the demo was a success. We created what we set out to do for the weekend and have a cool prototype for a web native version of The Message. I think events like this are an awesome idea as it bridges the gap between two very different professions. Just like Mozilla Journalism is bridging the gap between Journalists and Programmers, The Living Docs project and Popcorn is doing the same for Film Makers and Programmers and it’s great to be a part of.

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